After his latest movie got embroiled in controversy, Kabaddi-4 director Ram Babu Gurung seems worried.
Here’s why. Soon after the movie was released on May 27, Kabaddi 4: The Final Match, one of the most eagerly awaited movies after the Coronavirus pandemic confined much of humanity to their houses, started drawing huge crowds to movie theatres all over Nepal and beyond.
Things appeared to go terribly wrong for the movie, two days after the release, when actor Miruna Magar slapped a Buddhist monk named Phurba Tamang, 24, who allegedly molested her after a promotional event at Civil Mall, Kathmandu. The police took no time to arrest Tamang but, the incident triggered angry protests by Buddhist groups, who didn’t only tear up the film’s posters but also forced some theatres to stop the movie’s shows.
Tension spreads to Sikkim
The matter seemed all but settled after the young monk apologised to Miruna, yet the anger against the slap continued to boil and even spread across the border. Even after a ban on the movie in the Nepali-speaking Indian state of Sikkim, which came on June 14 following protests by Buddhist Lamas, the movie continues to stir curiosity of Nepali movie lovers worldwide.
Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay-Tamang wrote in a Facebook post, “Considering the sentiment of the people of Sikkim and various associations and organizations, the state government has decided to impose a ban on the release of Kabbadi 4 in the state until the dispute is resolved in an acceptable manner.”
Buddhist groups in Nepal and Sikkim have expressed sadness at the “slapping” of the monk and also the portrayal of Buddhist Lama in the movie – where Kabaddi’s lead actor, Kaji (Dayahang Rai) decides to become a Buddhist monk after his would-be bride deserted him at the last minute. “I became a monk to get Shanti (which translates to peace in Nepali),” Kaji tells his folks in one of the popular dialogues heard in the second half of the movie.
But little did the Kabaddi 4 crew anticipate that such transformation of Kaji and his tantrums would hurt Buddhist monks later and cause so much disquiet and controversy. That’s precisely why director Ram Babu Gurung and his crew members seem worried. Yet Gurung has not given up hopes that the trouble would soon be over.
He told NepalMinute: “We didn’t mean to hurt anybody or any community … We are holding talks (with different groups) and at the same time investigating the matter. We hope everybody understands our true intention, which is pure.”
For her part, actor Miruna Magar feels “hurt” by the chain of events that followed the promotional event of May 29. She wrote in an Instagram post on June 2, “My actions … were against an individual and not against the community and religion, and I extend my sincere apologies to the wider communities who have been unintentionally offended by the incident.”
Director Gurung is sympathetic to both parties: "Miruna is one of our actresses, and the monk is a religious pupil. But the way people portrayed it across social media has created a different scenario. People only see what they are shown. After seeing the video, a majority of people are supporting the monk. But inquiries are on to clear confussions.”
Bijay Baral, one of the co-actors famous for his role as BK who’s a close friend of Kaji, adds: “Miruna Magar apologised sincerely for her mistake, and both parties settled the issue quite amicably. But as a human being, reactions are normal.”
Box office success
It’s not clear when the controversy will settle completely. But, unverified reports in the Nepali media say, Kabaddi 4 made history by becoming the first ever Nepali movie to collect Rs 30 million on its first day of its release. After three weeks, it is said to have made an impressive Rs 200 million.
What this suggests is that movie-goers liked humorous yet serious-looking Kaji’s ridiculous-looking struggle set in the pristine and rustic locales of lower Mustang. As in the past sequels, it continues to narrate the the story of Kaji (Dayahang Rai), a lower Mustang young man notorious for his failures to win the heart of the girl he likes. Failing which, he becomes a Buddhist monk - and eventually becomes lucky in meeting a girl called Shanti (played by Miruna Magar).
In the end, the man in monk’s robes, appears delighted.
And that’s the end of Kabaddi 4. It is still unclear whether Gurung and his crew will come up with Kabaddi 5 a few months later. Despite courting controversy, the Kabaddi 4 is reportedly doing good, pulling crowds in several Nepali-speaking belts of India such as Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Siliguri, Assam and several countries around the world where Nepalis live and work.